Reports are coming out that the Falcons are looking for a team to absorb the $15.3 million in a Julio Jones trade in addition to getting a first-round pick. Some may scoff at this notion, but I think it is a perfectly reasonable request for the best receiver in football when healthy. I laid out some defensive players the Falcons could target, as well as some potential trade partners in a Jones deal. However, if the Falcons do relieve themselves of $15.3 million in salary obligations, not only will they be able to sign their rookie class, but they also have a golden opportunity to add some veterans that can help the front seven. If not all of these, most will be one-year contracts, but here are a few guys that I like for Atlanta to pursue if they get a little jingle in their pockets. If you want to find the first edition of this exercise featuring front-seven free-agent targets, you can read that here.
8. CB Nickell Robey-Coleman
A fiesty slot corner, Robey-Coleman had a down 2020 for the Eagles after being one of the best slot corners in the entire NFL since 2016 for the Bills. He played very well for the Rams before going to Philly, but he serves best as a rotational guy that can rush the passer and stick with smaller receivers.
7. CB Darqueze Dennard
When healthy, Dennard was pretty effective for the Falcons in 2020, and outside of AJ Terrell, he was easily the team’s best corner. I loved the signing for one-year, $970k before the 2020 campaign began, and I’d be happy to give him that again if the team got additional help.
6. S Tre Boston
Boston was released in mid-March, but he had a nice career in Carolina. Playing on a one-year deal in 2019, Boston had three picks and a personal best 11 passes defended. He parlayed that performance into a three year contract but didn’t play up to his price tag in 2020. Still, he was one of the top cover safeties in 2019, and Atlanta could give him a shot on a one-year pact.
5. CB Bashaud Breeland
Breeland is a guy who has been solid throughout his career. Even though he missed four games in 2020 due to a suspension, he still finished with two interceptions and nine passes defended. The Falcons could do a lot worse for a quality boundary corner.
4. S Kenny Vaccaro
A player that is familiar with Dean Pees, Vaccaro is a solid veteran option the Falcons could plug and play at safety from day one. Vacarro was cut in mid-March by the Titans, but I’d love to give him a shot in Atlanta. He’s a hybrid safety that has had a lot of success rushing the passer but still has a decent nose for the football playing as a high-safety. Dean Pees should value his versatility (again) and hopefully will give him a shot to mentor Richie Grant.
3. CB Steven Nelson
Nelson was elite for the Steelers in 2018 & 2019, and although his 2020 wasn’t as good, he’s still very balanced against the run and in coverage. While Mike Hilton mostly played in the slot with Nelson on the boundary, the 28-year-old has the potential to be CB2 for the Falcons Week 1.
2. CB Brian Poole
Alex has discussed bringing Brian Poole back to Atlanta before, and he is still one of the best pure nickel corners in the NFL. From Alex’s profile:
Poole is instinctive and rarely asked to do something he is incapable of. He can do everything asked of him from the slot, zone or man, defend the run, or rush the passer. Poole really is a jack of all trades, and I have no idea why the Falcons let him go for pennies.
Poole has consistently been one of the best nickel corners in the league since leaving Atlanta, and he would fill a massive position of need for the Falcons. Dean Pees would have a lot of fun moving him around his defense.
1. S Malik Hooker
I’ve talked about Malik Hooker before, and I like his potential way too much to give up on a guy who is only 25-years-old. Injuries have hampered the former first-round pick, but I’d be over the moon to get him on a cheap “prove-it” deal.
Hooker had tremendous ball skills and instincts coming out of college. He led the entire Big Ten in interceptions in 2016, and scouts raved about how incredible his range was as a high safety. A lot of that holds true today; the problems start and end with his body.
Hooker has played in a grand total of 36 games over the past four seasons. After his rookie year, when he sniped three interceptions and broke up four passes in seven games, Colts fans were still very optimistic that he would be an impact player. Hooker wasn’t bad in 2018 or 2019, but he missed five games over those two seasons. Going into 2020, the Colts were hoping that Hooker would play a full slate and make one last playoff push with Philip Rivers. He tore his achilles in Week 2.
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